BackContentsNext

YAHWEH.

I. The Pronunciation.
The Massoretic Form ( 1).
The Original Pronunciation ( 2).
II. Meaning and Derivation.
The Etymological Meaning ( 1).
Other Origins Proposed ( 2).
Was Yahweh a Kenite Deity? ( 3).
Was he God of the Leah Tribes ? ( 4).

The Hebrew YHWH (the tetragrammaton) denotes in the Old Testament the proper name of the God of Israel. Jews regard it as expressing not merely the name but the essence of God.

I. The Pronunciation

The Massoretic Form.

In the Massoretic text the usual form would give the pronunciation Yehowah, or Yehowih when the word Adhonai, "my(?) Lord," precedes. The second form shows the vowels of Elohim, "God": the first form has a close relation to the pronunciation of Adhonai (see JEHOVAH). It is demonstrable, however, that the form Yehowah does not reproduce the original pronunciation. Theodoret (c. 450) showed that in his time the Jews did not pronounce the name and already called it the tetragrammaton (cf. F. Field, Hexapla, i. 90, on Ex.vi. 3, London, 1871). Similarly Jerome, Origen, and the translators of the Bible before Origen found the tetragrammaton in their manuscripts, even in the Greek translations, where the name was represented by the capital letters iota and pi, closely resembling the Hebrew yodh and he. Origen seems to have transferred the Hebrew quadriliteral in his column of transliterated Hebrew and a later hand rendered it into the Greek iota and pi, and this transference seems to have been the custom of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. Philo gives the first sure case of a translation of the name by the Greek Kurios, "Lord." These and other indications suggest that the Jewish custom of not pronouncing the name (Jerome calls it "the ineffable") is very old, and this custom still obtained when the Massoretes affixed the pointing to the text; it is not probable that these scholars intended to imply that they were giving the correct pronunciation. The pronunciation indicated by "Jehovah" (J being pronounced as Y) has been traced as far back as Wessel (d. 1489), who used Johavah and Jehovah, and Petrus Galatinus, confessor of Leo X. (1513-21; see JEHOVAH). Beside the two facts, that the Massoretes would not be likely to disregard the custom regarding the nonpronunciation of the name, and the variation in the pointing given above, a third fact appears in the forms which YHWH takes when following a preposition. In this case the form resulting shows that the pronunciation is based on a fundamental form beginning with an aleph pointed with an a-vowel and not on one beginning with the sound ye. Further, the pointing of the succeeding word often indicates the pronunciation of a word ending not with the consonant he (a mere vowel sign) but with a full consonant, and the abbreviations yahu or yah in many proper names, as well as the form Yah, do not lead back to a pronunciation represented by Yehowah (or Jehovah). Did the form Yahowah anywhere occur, there could be no possible doubt that the two forms actually occurring represent the pronunciation of Elohim and Adhonai in place of the tetragrammaton. But the case is almost as cogent, in view of the treatment of the word with prefixed preposi-

471

tion and of the habit of the Massoretes when a word to be pronounced was written in the margin. And it is demonstrable that not only in the time of the Massoretes, but as early as the time of Jesus, it was the custom to pronounce Adhonai where YHWH occurred, a custom then so fast rooted that it must have been much older; indeed, the Septuagint appears to have used Kurios and later purists to have substituted the Greek quadriliteral. Moreover, the form Yehowah occasions no difficulty in view of the Babylonian Jewish custom of letting shewa represent hateph pathah, while Yehowih is probably a later form introduced to avoid a double reading "Adhonai Adhonai," when this form immediately preceded the tetragrammaton. The form was never pronounced Yehowah (Jehovah).

2. The Original Pronunciation.

The earliest testimony as to the original pronunciation of the name comes from the Assyrian pronunciation of the Hebrew in such proper names as Hezekiah, which is so given as to represent yahu. From the Old Testament itself the evidence comes from Ex. iii., and from two classes of proper names, those in which the divine name is the first element and those in which it is the last element. In Ex. iii. it is clear that the narrator connects the name with the verb hayah, "to be," or its variant hawah. The Hebrew names Yehonathan or Yonathan (Jonathan) and Hizkiyahu or Hiskiyah (Hezekiah) are fairly representative of names compounded with the divine name, and the Assyrian pronunciation indicates the correctness of the Massoretic pointing given Hezekiah's name. This shows clearly and decisively the pronunciation "yah" for the first syllable. For the final syllable the analogy of verbal forms ending in weh and their shortening (by dropping of the final consonant and its vowel) into u renders it exceedingly probable that the original pronunciation was "weh." This is strengthened by the common process of rendering yhw by yo when the middle h is dropped (cf. Yonathan above). Such a conclusion, giving "Yahweh" as the pronunciation of the name, is confirmed by the testimony of the Fathers and gentile writers, where the forms lao, Yaho, Yaou, Yahouai, and Yaoue appear. Especially important is the statement of Theodoret in relation to Ex. vi., when he says: "the Samaritans call it [the tetragrammaton] 'Yabe,' the Jews [call it] 'Aia'" (the latter form representing the 'ehyeh, "I will be," of Ex. iii. 14). The Samaritan pronunciation doubtless depends upon a living tradition.*

1

II. Meaning and Derivation

1. The Etymological Meaning.

The form is doubtless derived from the verb hayah (hawah), "to be or become," as an imperfect either of the simple or causative species, differentiated as a proper name from the imperfect of the verb. But as this verb does not appear to have a causative species, it is better to take it as the simple form. In Ex. iii. 14 the question of Moses is answered by the statement "I AM THAT I AM." If for the first person were substituted the third, the form might well be yahweh, and the idea is not that of being, existence (an abstract thought of late reflection), but of happening, coming to pass; the concept of being, existence, is a secondary derivation from that of coming to pass. In this case the translation is not "I am that I am," nor (Aquila and Theodotion) "I will be what I will be," upon which ideas are based the general Jewish notion of "the Eternal." The idea conveyed is "I, who manifest myself, reveal myself," representing therefore not an abstract something, but a being who corresponds to a concrete need. Out of this flows a rich harvest of suggestion of Yahweh as the one living fact, out of which the form of the oath of Israel is derived--"as Yahweh liveth." God did not intend in the passage to assert his existence, for that was self-evident; the intention was to define himself as regnant in nature and history, revealing himself in life and force, rich in help for his people. The idea of eternity as represented in such passages as Isa. xl. 28, xli. 4, xliii. 13 is not to be imported into the Exodus passage. This rendering is related to that of Ibn Ezra, J. D. Michaelis, and J. Wellhausen, the last of whom renders "I am because I am." The rendering of W. R. Smith, which involves an implied idea that help to Israel is involved and imports "to you" in some such way as "I will be what I will be [to you]" is refuted by Dillmann, who, however, was wrong in making it "I am what I am (inexpressible and in explicable in essence)," which rendering he later renounced.

2. Other Origins Proposed.

It is entirely a different question whether this etymological sense is now binding. Old-Testament usage allows more than a single meaning to a proper name, whether of place or person. It may be that in Exodus there is a definite attempt to etymologize, and that duty demands an attempt to go behind this. In fact many, attempts of this sort have been made, divisible into two classes, those which derive the name from Hebrew origin and those which regard as possible derivation of the name and the deity from non-Israelitic sources. The first group depends in part upon the supposition that the idea of existence is, too metaphysical to be found at the very origin of a religion--an objection which does not lie against the rendering adopted above. Thus the meaning "creator" has been suggested (J. LeClerc, Gesenius) from the causative idea of calling into existence. Cognate with this is the supposition that the verbs hayah and hawah, "live," were fused in thought, with the result of a meaning similar to that just given, "lifegiver" or creator. But it may be asked whether in the text hayah, "to be or become" is to stand,

472

and whether a verb hawah, "to fall " or another of the same form meaning "to breathe, ask, or demand" is not to be understood. In case Yahweh was a deity known in Israel long before the time of Moses, or was the deity of one of the ancestors of the people or of a non-Israelitic Semitic stock adopted by the whole people in Mosaic times, it would follow that an etymological origin in Hebrew either could receive no guaranty or would be excluded, and a Semitic stem hawah should be sought, leading far back into origins in nature religion. Hence Lagarde derived the name from the verb "to (cause to) fall," i.e., she storm-god (Orientalia, ii. 27, Göttingen, 1880), with whom practically agree W. R. Smith, Schwally, and Kerber; while Holzinger from the same root derives the meaning "destroyer" and Wellhausen obtains "the breather" or "weather god"--a meaning with which Ewald is in substantial accord. Other attempts have been made, as by Baudissin, Lenormant, and Schrader, to find the sources in Syrian or Babylonian religion, these attempts obtaining their support in the name Yaubidi, variant Ilubidi, of Hamath, which seems to look back to a deity Yau, or in a component of Babylonian names which appears as Ya or < id="ii.xxviii.ii.p2.4">Yawa, Winckler supposing that the Babylonian deity was spiritualized into the Hebrew divinity, but derived directly from the Canaanites through whom he passed to the Israelites. Even F. Hommel is found as sponsor for the theory of a Babylonian origin (Expository Times, 1899, pp. 42 sqq.). But an objection to these proposals is that the ground form of the name does not appear to be Yahu but Yahweh, while Yah in Hebrew seems to be a poetic or liturgic abbreviation; and this is attested by the form on the Moabite Stone where Mesha wrote Yhwh nd not Yhw or Yh. The occurrence of the forms in Syrian environment (such as Yaubidi, ut sup., or Azriyahu, H. Winckler, Forschungen, i. 16, Leipsic, 1893) or in Babylonia may be explained as direct loan names from Israel or as names carried by Hebrew captives or in part as not divine names, or even in some cases to be rendered as expansions of the prefix of the imperfect tense. Granted that there was a Sumerian deity Yau, it is highly improbable that he had any relationship to the Hebrew deity. Yahweh as a derivation from Yau is inexplicable, but to derive Yahu from Yahweh is easy and natural. Similarly the case alleged by W. M. Müller (Asien und Europa, pp. 312-313, Leipsic, 1893) of a place-name Bait-ya (Beth-Yah or Beth-el) mentioned in the lists of Thothmes III. might possibly point to an old Canaanitic deity Ya, but whether this questionable deity had any relation to Yahweh is very problematical. So that the probabilities reduce to two; the form is native Hebrew or comes from a closely related (Arabic) stem.

3. Was Yahweh a Kenite Deity?

From the historical standpoint it is to be remarked that, of the chief narrators of the Pentateuch, E and P refer the introduction of the worship of Yahweh among the Hebrews to Moses, while J in the manner of folk-lore carries this worship back into the earliest times of the race. In other words, Hebrews attributed to Moses the origin of Yahweh worship, and from the song of Deborah it appears that this cult was established before the time of Deborah. And the narratives connect the origins closely with Sinait in the neighborhood of which the deity revealed himself to Moses; so in Deborah's Song he comes forth from Sinai and later Elijah goes to Sinai. At the time of this revelation, Moses was in connection with the shepherd stock of Midianites, a stock related to the Kenites, who were in turn associated with the later Rechabites, strenuous maintainers of the Yahweh cult. Thus Yahweh appears as an old deity of Sinai, revered in untold antiquity as a weather-god, and as such brought by Moses to Israel, to him revealed through his connection with the Midianite priestly family. In this way the difference of representations in J and E received explanation, since J belongs to Judah, as did the Kenites to whom Yahweh was the long-possessed ancestral deity. This is the view of Tiele, Stade, and Budde. To this it must be said that so essential a part is not assigned in the history to the Kenites; it is the Kenites who came to Israel and not the reverse (Num. x. 29 sqq.), and the conception assigns to the Hebrews no peculiarity, no religion, and no deity, while of a transfer from the Kenites no direct trace appears. If it is true, Moses must have discovered in this weather-god something new and singular entitling him to distinguish between the Kenites and the Israelites and enabling Moses to regard him ethically as the God of heaven and earth. If this ethical idea is lacking, the entire religious development of Israel remains a riddle. Budde lays stress upon the fact that the religion was a matter of election, of choice. But choice is not necessarily a matter of ethics, it may be one of arbitrary dealing. What Yahweh became in course of time he must have been, at least in germ, at the time of choice, the God of the right and the good. Of a change in the conception of God from a mere weather-god to an ethical being the narrative says nothing; there is not a word which corresponds to the hypothesis of a derivation of their deity by Israel from the Kenites.

Was he God of the Leah Tribes?

There remains the possibility that in the time before Moses a part of the people dwelt near Sinai and that by this part Yahweh was worshiped, and that from it Moses learned of him (so Nowack). It is supposed that the sojourn in Egypt was by the Rachel tribes, while the Leah tribes, to which Moses belonged, remained at Sinai, whence Moses went to summon the tribes in Egypt. But while this method of Nowack's is the only method by which the hypothesis of the Yahweh cult by a portion of the people can be supported, the matter remains pure hypothesis. Tradition knows of no abiding of an Israelitic stock at Sinai, only of a close connection of the Yahweh worship with Sinai. Further, it may be remarked that of the character of a pre-Mosaic Israelitic Sinai-god, Yahweh, nothing further is known except that he must have been other than he is conceived as the Yahweh of Moses. What can be affirmed is that with the person of Moses and the location of Sinai is bound up the revelation of Yahweh, so important for the history of Israel. The way in which

473

this came to Moses must, from the standpoint of human occurrences, remain an insolvable riddle.

(R. KITTEL.)

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Besides the lexicons, especially Gesenius, Thesaurus, the works on O. T. theology, especially Schulze, the works on O. T. introduction, on the history of Israel, and the commentaries on Ex. vi., consult: S. R. Driver, in Studia Baiblica, i. 1 sqq., Oxford, 1885; A. Köhler, De pronunciatione . . . Tetragrammaton, Erlangen, 1867; W. W. von Baudissin, Studien zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte, i. 181-254, Leipsic, 1876; E. Nestle, Die israelitischen Eigennamen, ib. 1876; Tiele, in ThT, xvi (1882), 262 sqq.; A. Kuenen Volksreligion und Weltreligion, pp. 307 sqq., Berlin, 1883; Dietrich, in ZATW, iii (1883), iv (1884), 21 sqq.; Wellhausen, Heidentums; G. H. Dalman, Der Gottesname Adonaj, Berlin, 1889; P. de Lagarde, Uebersicht &#uuml;ber die Nominalbildung, Göttingen, 1889; Pinches, in PSBA xv (1892), 13 sqq.; G. Margoliouth, in PSBA, xviii (1895), 57 sqq.; J. Meinhold, Wider den Kleinglauben, vol. i., Freiburg, 1895; W. Nowaek, Die Entstehung der israelitischen Religion, Strasburg, 1895; M. Jastrow, in ZA, x (1896), 222 sqq., ZATW, xv (1896), 1 sqq.; J. Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, Edinburgh,1896; F. Hommel, Altisraelitische Ueberlieferung, Munich, 1897; G. Kerber, Die religionsgeschichtliche Bedeutung der hebr&aauml;ischen Eigennamen, Tübingen, 1897; E. König, in ZATW, xvii (1897), 172 sqq., NKZ, x (1899), 703 sqq.; B. Stade, Die Eutstehung des Volkes Israel, Giessen, 1897; B. Steinführer, Untersuchung über den Namen Jehovah, Neustrelitz, 1898; K. Budde, Die Religion des Volkes Israel, Giessen, 1900; idem, Religion of Israel to the Exile, New York, 1899; Smith, Prophets; T. Tyler, in JQR, July, 1901; H. H. Spoer, in American Journal of Semitic Languages, Oct., 1901; G. A. Barton, Semitic Origins, chap. vii., New York, 1902; J. A. Montgomery, in JBL, xxv. 1 (1906); Expository Times, xviii (1907), 525; R. W. Rogers, Religions of Babylonia and Assyria, pp. 91 sqq., New York, 1909 (deals with the name as found outside of Israel); P. C. Purves, The Jehovah Titles of the O. T., London, 1910; S. R. Driver, in his commentary on Genesis, Addendum II., ib. 1911; Schrader, KAT, pp. 457 et passim; Expository Times,Nov. 11, 1911; R. Kittel, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, i. 555 sqq., 628-629, Leipsic, 1912; DB, ii. 199-200; iv. 845; EB, iii. 3320-23; JE, vii. 87-88.

YEAR, THE CHURCH.

See CURCH YEAR

1 Note should be taken, however, of the recent very decided trend toward a belief that the original pronunciation was Yahu. This rests partly upon the forms employed in Hebrew compound names, illustrated in the text (which do not necessarily imply that the element Yahu or Yaho in such names was an abbreviation). The supposition here is that the Hebrew Waw was vocal and not consonantal (as it often becomes in conjugation). Corroboration is found in the preference in Gnostic gems for the form Iao or Inou, and similar forms. For examples of these consult the literature under GNOSTICISM, especially the work of King, to which add A. F. Gori, Thesaurus gemmarum astriferarum, Florence, 1570; A. Capello, Prodromus iconicus sculptilium gemmarum, Venice, 1702; J. M. A. Chabouillet, Catalogue général . . . des camées et pierres gravés de la bibliothèque impériale, Paris, 1858; also R. Kittel, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, i. 628-629, 2d ed., Leipsic, 1912.--G. W. G.

BackContentsNext


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 10/03/03. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely